Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I almost never get sick -- maybe a mild cold once a year. When I was a kid, the only days of school I ever missed from kindergarten through high school were when I was unconscious during a bout with malaria (we lived abroad for a while). This is good because I don't have time to be sick.

I'm not particularly ill now, but I have lost my voice. I had to cancel one talk, fortunately a local one that I could easily reschedule for next week. I hated to cancel for today, but without my voice, my only other options were mime and interpretive dance, and those didn't seem like good ideas for today. I am hoping that I will be back to speaking by the time I have to teach tomorrow.

Today was also not a good day to be speechless because I had to remain largely silent in a department meeting, and I had things to say, especially when one colleague commented critically about an FSP at another university. He said that she had "deliberately" caused a rift in her department by "insisting" that the department hire her husband. She even went so far as to get an offer from another university and then blackmailed her department into giving her husband a tenure-track job. Apparently the department was a harmonious place until she came along.

I could not let those comments pass unremarked, so I sort of whisper-yelled all my key points in quick succession: "What other choice did she have? Do you criticize men who get other offers and make demands? Her department didn't have to hire her husband. Of course she didn't set out of cause a rift." and then a few other colleagues (male, female, single, married) added similar points until the offending colleague retreated by saying that he was just repeating what he'd heard. The Chair, who is terminally Nice, thanked him for his comments and said that it was important that he had shared them with us. [factoid: this colleague has a stay-at-home wife]

I think this colleague, who is somewhat new to the US academic culture, should be encouraged to become better informed rather than just thanked for sharing. It may be too late to change his opinions, but he should know what is relevant information for a faculty meeting and what is sexist gossip. There is room for many points of view on the complicated issue of the 2-Body Problem in academia, but criticizing a woman for doing exactly what the current academic system requires is not fair.

Later, another colleague started droning on about one of his favorite points (berating the rest of us for not being as dedicated to students as he is), and it just so happened that at that exact moment I had to cough a lot, so I thought it most polite to leave.


anon said...

It's kind of hard to do interpretive dance when you're sick. Your head is spinning and you'll probably feel bad afterwards. Mime though... it's a whole different story but you probably had to have gone to mime college to do it well.

Oh yes.. these departmental meetings sound weird. Why would people normally talk about irrelevant hiring decisions at other universities (unless it was to make a relevant point I guess)? I've been to some meetings where people didn't resort to long, irrelevant, personal anecdotes. They went rather well actually.

JoAnne said...

Back when I lived in the midwest I used to lose my voice every spring. (One year a colleague bought me a Harpo-Marx horn!) Only thing that would cure it is anti-biotics from the doctor.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic rant of another Female Scientist at a government resarch lab...

I just received a wedding invitation from an extremely annoying cousin. Her father, Dean of the Department Responsible for Environmental Degradation at Not-That-Great State University, made sure to print his name on the invitation as "Dr. Muck". However, the invitation was address to me as "Miss TBD" - fancy cursive script, no less. I know it's petty to be pi$$ed off by this, but dammit, I spent my five years in grad school in a subject area much harder than his, so I've earned my title. And my research is about the future of the planet, not how to grind it into dust. That must really get his goat.

*sigh* I'm still bitter about when my aunt (Mrs. Muck) died three years ago. My poor mother, grandmother, and I were forced to sit through two offensively religious (as in the "yer all goin' ta hell" variety) funerals by Uncle Muck. The three of us managed to get through it all by playing rock-scissors-paper in the back of the chapel. When my grandmother died shortly thereafter, Uncle Muck tried mightily to insert his (obnoxious and preachy) religious views into the funeral. Fortunately, my mother shot him down, and the two of us got through that sad event as best we could.

However, I'll be damned if I sit through another fundamentalist revival meeting of theirs. They can keep their obnoxious wedding garbage. I can't imagine inflicting that nonsense on anyone. The wedding industry is nauseating. And I'm sick of trying to tease a molecule of respect out of a family member who (apparently for religious reasons) insists that women have no intrinsic value outside of the home. I could care less if I ever see that branch of the family again. Sometimes it's best that way for a Female Scientist.

/rant over - I guess the point is, sexist pigs really stink.

lizzy said...

whats so inherently wrong with stay at home wives? don't misunderstand me, nothing disgusts me more than those non-thinking women who live off their husbands' paychecks and spend their days shopping and 'doing lunch', but i also know several women who are stay at home wives/mums and are more gainfully employed than most women who work in an office. they're smart, university-educated, and spend most of their time either raising their small children, or writing, or working on various boards and in their communities. i have utmost respect for them.

Female Science Professor said...

There's nothing wrong with stay-at-home wives. I've written about this before. Mentioning the factoid in this post was to provide the perspective that this particular male colleague had no idea what it was like to balance 2 careers.

SouthernBelle said...

Hi. I just ran across this blog somehow. I know it probably doesn't have much to do with what you were talking about, but I thought it was a strange coincidence that I just happened to run across this when I was having a problem. I am a college student and I am thinking of changing majors from English to History. I want to teach high school or middle school when I graduate. My mother was talking (off the record) to a friend who is a high school counselor locally. The counselor told my mother that they do not hire women History teachers. She said they would offer the job to a coach or a man before they would offer it to a woman. I just thought it was kind of sexist. Now I don't know if I should do what I really love by majoring in History, but risk not being able to find a job when I get out because I am a woman, or if I should major in English because they apparently see that as a more womanly job and would give me a job. I know this is probably irrelevant to your blog, but I just felt the need to say something about it after I read this, especially since it was pure coincidence that I found this blog just a few hours after being told this.

Prisoners of the Cave said...

Dear student SouthernBelle,

Yes serendipity solves many problems.

If you were living in another society, such as say in a developing nation, then listening to the sane advice of 'elders' might make sense. No point in being run over by the same truck, and no sense being a martyr. Which is probably why developing nations tend to stay 'developing' listening to elders!

But here in America, and I write this as a foreigner who has lived here for at least a quarter century, I have to say that things are much better. It is much easier to pursue one's passions in this nation, and to excell in them, then almost anywhere else on earth, especially for ordinary plebeian peoples whose parents can't get them into yale on the 'legacy' ticket.

While one has to be generally cognizant of the job market and what to specialize in, but undergraduate years of education is among the most momentous contributions of America to modernity du jour, despite her, and its, many short comings.

The beauty of undergraduate years is that it allows one to develop a broad background, explore new interests, and just become a 'thinking educated' person - although one has to pretty much do that on one's own as the universities don't really do much in making one 'educated' or even 'thinking'. But they give one the opportunity, and what an amazing opportunity it is.

And studying history is one of the best things anyone can study as an undergraduate. For those who don't know it, are surely condemned to repeat it, over and over again. You can immediately see this in the society around you - this 'war on terrorism'.

And your interest in subsequently wanting to teach it to others at the K-12 levels is very commendable indeed.

So in order to make up your mind based on some more concrete facts than some unknown feedback from the internet, may I recommend just one history book that will likely change your entire outlook on this and give you the answer that you seek in a more objective manner:

"A People's history of the United States" by Howard Zinn.

It cost $14.95, and I had all my children read it, and read it again especially when they entered 9th grade. The history teachers in the school were rather unfamiliar with this monumental work, and were simply stunned at my kids bringing up issues in the contemporary context that had never occured to them to think about.

So pursue your dreams and your passions in general. In this specific case, history is one of the most noteworthy professions and this nation surely needs far more historians who don't just narrate history after its fait accompli, but learn and apply it contemporaneously to prevent new faits accomplis, than it needs english teachers. Although there is nothing wrong with knowing literature, and in many languages and of many cultures, not just english. Indeed, imparting humanities educatin to science and engineering majors is of utmost necessity, especially for the multicultural society du jour, and the competitive needs of a) world peace, and b) global nature of work force.

The gender bias while certainly a reality - no differently than racial bias, or any other abhorrent prejudice in society - you really shouldn't worry about, because your very act of pursuing your passions will surely end up doing something about it, for yourself, and for all your peoples!

Making a living will naturally fall out of it, well most of the time - can't be too pigheaded in idealism or one may end up in the same state as 'Pyrrho', the skeptic. But what you wish to pursue also opens up many doors for graduate school, especially in journalism and other humanities professions.

Activist historians, rather than just reciters of history, are every nations' best friend.

I offer this humble advice no differently than what I have offered my own kids.

Project Humanbeingsfirst.org

Stace said...

Can you please enlighten me, who DOES have 'time to be sick'? After all, doesn't everyone have the same 24 hours in a day??

Stace said...

Can you please enlighten me, who DOES have 'time to be sick'? Everybody has the same 24 hours in a day.

Tumble said...

Dear Southernbelle,

50 yrs ago FemaleScienceProfessor would have heard similar things. If history is an interest of yours, you should know that brave people change history to make the world a (slightly) more reasoned place. Don't be dissuaded from your field by one person's opinion. There are a million highschools in America - you will find a job just fine if you are dedicated and informed on your subject.

FSP, thanks for making the effort to (despite your throat) promote equality. Many people don't realize how damaging their idle chatter/gossip/whinging is.

Anonymous said...

The unsuitability of the discussion in a department meeting is obvious, but dont you think it is unethical for any person, male or female, to try to force their employer to hire a relative?

At any place, specially at a university, doesn't this practice reek of nepotism?

BASHA said...


BASHA said...

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take care---- good night